Thursday, April 01, 2021

A Brief Reverie on this April Fool's Day: An Homage to Sebastian Brandt's Daß Narrenschyff ad Narragoniam ("Ship of Fools") (1494) "Of euyl Counsellours, Juges and men of lawe."



Today is a time set apart for thinking like and playing the fool.   This is not the day for Plato's fool (Republic Book IV) --hardly the stuff of the merrie fool of the Stultifera Navis (Foucault, Madness and Civilization, pp. 3-25).  This is the day reserved to celebrate Lear's Fool, who is a fool for suffering fools and as a consequence whose foolishness causes us all to suffer the delusions of the fool. 

Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter fool and a sweet one?

No, lad; teach me.

   That lord that counsell’d thee
     To give away thy land,
   Come place him here by me,
     Do thou for him stand.
   The sweet and bitter fool
     Will presently appear;
   The one in motley here,
     The other found out there.

Dost thou call me fool, boy?

All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with.

W. Shakespeare, King Lear; Act 1 Scene IV

 It s the day reserved for the exposure of folly, which is the great task of folly itself, and is in that exercise itself a folly, an extravagance. 

To those ends I reserve the day in homage to the folly of law and its counselors, that motley and rollicking collection of self absorbed (but that of course is the essence of their folly)  fools who perpetuate its folly. And who better to remind us of the ancient follies of law and its ship of fools, than Sebastian Brandt's Daß Narrenschyff ad Narragoniam ("Ship of Fools") (1494) in its roughly contemporaneous translation (1509) by Alexander Barclay (Project Gutenberg EBook #20179 (2006) from the 1874 edition). And in honor of this April Fool's day I provide a contemplation of the folly of the law and its counselor as set out in Vol I's "Of euyl Counsellours, Juges and men of lawe" which opens with a caption to the woodblock and text that follow below:

He that Office hath and hyghe autorite.
To rule a Royalme: as Juge or Counsellour
Which seynge Justice, playne ryght and equyte
Them falsly blyndeth by fauour or rigour
Condemnynge wretches gyltles. And to a Transgressour
For mede shewinge fauour. Suche is as wyse a man
As he that wolde seeth a quycke Sowe in a Pan. 








 "Of euyl Counsellours, Juges and men of lawe"


Right many labours nowe, with hyghe diligence

For to be Lawyers the Comons to counsayle.

Therby to be in honour had and in reuerence

But onely they labour for theyr pryuate auayle.

The purs of the Clyent shal fynde hym apparayle.

And yet knowes he neyther lawe good counsel nor Justice.


But speketh at auenture: as men throwe the dyce.

Suche in the Senate ar taken oft to counsayle

With Statis of this and many a other region.

Whiche of theyr maners vnstable ar and frayle

Nought of Lawe Ciuyl knowinge nor Canon.

But wander in derknes clerenes they haue none.

O noble Rome thou gat nat thy honours

Nor general Empyre by suche Counsellours.


Whan noble Rome all the worlde dyd gouerne

Theyr councellers were olde men iust and prudent

Whiche egally dyd euery thynge descerne

Wherby theyr Empyre became so excellent

But nowe a dayes he shall haue his intent

That hath most golde, and so it is befall

That aungels worke wonders in westmynster hall.


There cursyd coyne makyth the wronge seme right

The cause of hym that lyueth in pouertye

Hath no defence, tuycion, strength nor myght

Suche is the olde custome of this faculte

That colours oft cloke Justyce and equyte

None can the mater fele nor vnderstonde

Without the aungell be weyghty in his honde


Thus for the hunger of syluer and of golde

Justyce and right is in captyuyte

And as we se nat gyuen fre, but solde

Nouther to estates, nor sympell comonte

And though that many lawyers rightwysnes be

Yet many other dysdayne to se the ryght

And they ar suche as blynde Justycis syght


There is one and other alleged at the barre

And namely suche as chrafty were in glose

Upon the lawe: the clyentis stande afarre

Full lytell knowynge howe the mater goose

And many other the lawes clene transpose

Folowynge the example, of lawyers dede and gone

Tyll the pore Clyentis be etyn to the bone


It is not ynough to conforme thy mynde

Unto the others faynyd opynyon

Thou sholde say trouthe, so Justyce doth the bynde

And also lawe gyueth the commyssyon

To knowe hir, and kepe hir without transgressyon

Lyst they whome thou hast Juged wrongfully

Unto the hye Juge for vengeaunce on the crye.


Perchaunce thou thynkest that god taketh no hede

To mannes dedys, nor workes of offence

Yes certaynly he knowes thy thought and dede

No thynge is secrete, nor hyd from his presence

Wherefore if thou wylt gyde the by prudence

Or thou gyue Jugement of mater lesse or more

Take wyse mennys reade and good counsayle before


Loke in what Balance, what weyght and what mesure

Thou seruest other. for thou shalt serued be

With the same after this lyfe I the ensure.

If thou ryghtwysly Juge by lawe and equyte

Thou shalt haue presence of goddes hyghe maiestye

But if thou Juge amys: than shall Eacus

(As Poetis sayth) hell Juge thy rewarde discusse


God is aboue and regneth sempiternally.

Whiche shall vs deme at his last Jugement,

And gyue rewardes to echone egally

After suche fourme as he his lyfe hath spent

Than shall we them se whome we as violent

Traytours: haue put to wronge in worde or dede

And after our deserte euen suche shall be our mede


There shall be no Bayle nor treatynge of maynpryse

Ne worldly wysdome there shall no thynge preuayle

There shall be no delayes vntyll another Syse

But outher quyt, or to infernall Gayle.

Ill Juges so iuged, Lo here theyr trauayle

Worthely rewarded in wo withouten ende.

Than shall no grace be graunted ne space to amende.


The Enuoy of Alexander Barclay the translatour.


Therfore ye yonge Studentes of the Chauncery:

(I speke nat to the olde the Cure of them is past)

Remember that Justyce longe hath in bondage be

Reduce ye hir nowe vnto lybertye at the last.

Endeuer you hir bondes to louse or to brast

Hir raunsome is payde and more by a thousande pounde

And yet alas the lady Justyce lyeth bounde.


Thoughe your fore Faders haue take hir prysoner

And done hir in a Dongeon nat mete for hir degre

Lay to your handes and helpe hir from daungere

And hir restore vnto hir lybertye

That pore men and monyles may hir onys se

But certaynly I fere lyst she hath lost hir name

Or by longe prysonment shall after euer be lame.

No comments: